Operation Blackcock (i)

'Blackcock' (i) was a British amphibious undertaking to take Scaletta on the north-east coast of Sicily (19 August 1943).

Planned by Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s XIII Corps of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army, the operation was designed as one of a pair of Allied undertakings to cut off the last elements of the German forces falling back to the evacuation point at Messina on the north-eastern tip of Sicily.

The operation was based on the infantry of Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Churchill’s No. 2 Commando supported by tanks, artillery and engineers in a force led by Brigadier J. C. Currie, commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade. Developed from previous US landings farther to the west near Cape Orlando and Patti on 8 and 11 August respectively to open the way for the advance of Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s US 3rd Division, the US half of the undertaking was directed at Barcellona on Sicily’s north coast, and was planned by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s II Corps of Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s 7th Army. The US component of the plan was to have comprised the 157th RCT delivered by sea and one parachute battalion dropped from the air, although the airborne part of the operation was cancelled at the last minute.

The British force sailed from Augusta and Catania to land at Scaletta and cut Highway 114 some 10 miles (16 km) to the south of Messina, but in fact came ashore at 04.30 some 3 miles (4.8 km) to the north of the intended beach. The landing did not face any opposition, but the day was characterised by skirmishes with individual lorry loads of Axis troops and demolition parties falling back to Messina. Toward dusk Currie received orders to advance on Messina, and allocated this task to a mobile force of two troops of commandos, half of a tank squadron, some self-propelled guns and a party of engineers.

Meanwhile on Highway 113 the 7th Infantry of the 3rd Division was already nearing Messina, outstripping the landing force as Bradley had expected. A US patrol reached the outskirts of Messina shortly after dark, and early in the following morning other elements of the 7th Infantry arrived, followed at around 09.00 by Churchill and his force.